Alesis SR-16 Reloaded

After getting inspired by the SR-16 sample library from Killa Beat Productions, I decided I wanted something even more refined.

You may accuse me of displaying signs of music tech OCD, but noticing subtle inconsistencies in the purchased SR-16 sample pack, specifically with samples cut short producing audible pops at the end (ProTools or not), I decided to produce my own set.

As a proof of concept, I experimented to see how this project could be accomplished at a fairly low budget while maintaining quality.

For the sound source I used the Ion Audio iED04 Digital Drum Station, which I had acquired from eBay at a bargain $80. Die-hard SR-16 fans may cry blasphemy, but the truth is that Ion uses the same electronic guts and sample set as the Alesis Performance Pad, so there is really no loss of essence in the choice of hardware.

I used two six-foot gold-plated 1/4″-1/4″ RadioShack cables costing $15 each to connect the iED to an E-MU 1212m mastering grade sound card slapped into one of my studio PCs. This $150 card has a good 120dB signal-to-noise ratio.

For the performance, I used the sticks included with the iED, playing the bottom-left pad, set to volume 95 (out of 99, with the volume knob turned to max), with center pan. Switching the instrument to Drum Kit mode, I scrolled through the menu pages to display the sample number and name, and starting at 001 (out of 233), I moved up to the next sample after the previous one has played through, striking the pad at maximum velocity in the center (the instrument itself only recognizes seven separate velocity layers, but the layers are not multisampled, however they do use “Dynamic Articulation”). I recorded the session at 24 bits and 44.1kHz. Audio engineering super geeks may prefer 192kHz, or at least 96, but given the original sample resolution of the instrument and compatibility considerations, I knew I was not sacrificing quality simply because of the depth/resolution settings.

I tracked with Audacity, a free multiplatform audio editor. First, I stretched the height of the stereo sample view so the center line of both left and right channels just barely fit in the window, then zoomed in so I could clearly and distinctively see each wave, with white noise showing up as a bit thicker than the thin base line. This is where I intended to match and surpass the Killa Beat accuracy. Challenge: could my humble sampling project be worthy of a ProTools-equipped studio product?

I painstakingly located the start of each sample and saterted marking the selection, taking care to include the whole sound to the last sample, but none of the white noise. What I noticed was interesting: while the sample played, even as it faded, it actually produced less white noise than silence! This helped me locate the exact end of each sound, as the thickening base line indicated the start of white noise. This also worked for the reverse cymbal samples, where white noise turned into thin base line first, gradually growing louder until the sample abruptly cut off.

After selecting each sound, I labeled it using Ctrl + B with the original Alesis sample number and with the exact display name. This way, all I had to do was use the “Export Multiple” function, which produces 233 individual .WAV files with the correct names already applied. Give it up for the glorious batch processing capabilities of Audacity!

I used an M-Audio Trigger Finger (another eBay acquisition for $100, but not necessary for the actual sampling process) to keep checking the samples after various stages of export batches, just to make sure there were no glitches in the editing process. I confidently heard my samples play out fuller than the commercial set, with no pops on any of them.

So how does it all sound? In the heat of peformance, I was hard-pressed to hear any noise on any of the samples, and the increased accuracy was easily noticeable on many of the sounds. But then again, the time and money investments were way beyond the original $8 download.

I will post a few performance samples sometime, and you can draw your own conclusions.

Since with this sampling project I stepped into analog territory, you may ask why I do not just simply buy an SR-16 for $50-$100 on eBay.

Now you are messing with my red stapler.

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